Friday, May 14, 2010

Parliament and the obeying the law

Editorial -- The Express Tribune -- May 15

Many laws, in other countries as well as our own, are unfair. They discriminate against individuals or set in place measures that are aimed to suit only particular purposes – in some cases undoubtedly ulterior ones. But no matter what the case, laws need to be obeyed. Indeed it is all the more important that people in responsible places or aspiring to such positions try and set the right precedent. There are many reasons to disagree with the rule set in place under the regime of Pervez Musharraf that required those contesting elections to parliament to hold a degree. But the fact is that at the time when the members of the present assemblies contested elections it was in place. In April 2008, prior to the presidential election it was brought before the Supreme Court by two JUI-F legislators and consequently struck down by a seven-member bench headed by then chief justice Abdul Hameed Dogar.
As far as Jamshed Dasti’s case is concerned, he resigned after it became clear to a Supreme Court bench hearing a petition challenging the authenticity of his degree that he was not conversant as a graduate should be. The complication arises because once he resigned he was again given the ticket — this time on the grounds apparently that the graduation condition was no longer required. In comes the prime minister who the other day campaigned for the much-maligned former legislator and now bye-election candidate on a seat from Muzaffargarh. This was picked up in the media and the prime minister came in for strong criticism for campaigning on behalf of a man who had broken the law. In response, on May 13 the prime minister spoke about this in the National Assembly suggesting that the media was trying to malign parliament by saying that a majority of its members have degrees which have been purchased. He also said — and rightly so — that the graduation condition was not a requirement in any industrialised country or indeed anywhere else in the rest of the world and that Dasti has been approved by the Election Commission as a candidate.

We like to respectfully submit that the issue is not whether the graduation condition is a necessary one or not. For the record, it is unnecessary and counter-productive because it immediately disqualifies the bulk of Pakistanis from contesting a parliamentary election and purely on grounds that the lack a certain academic qualification. This in fact runs counter to the spirit of the constitution and was deemed as such by the Supreme Court way back in 2008 — so there really should be little argument about it. The issue, rather, is of the elected leader of parliament publicly meeting and campaigning for an individual who by his own admission broke a law to contest an election. That is something that no body, not even the prime minister, can really defend because by doing so would mean that what Dasti did in forging his degree was the right thing to have done. And even with a law that made little sense, and was put in place at the whims of a military dictator, violating it when the purpose was to become a member of parliament is not something that can be condoned.

In this context, the media is not targeting legislators for having fake degrees but rather raising a very important issue, and that relates to the matter of those running for public office abiding by election rules. This means that even though the law may not be in force now, all those members of parliament who violated it at the time that it was in operation should be held accountable before a court of law. This should be seen as no different than prosecuting those who defraud the general public by willful misrepresentation or those who use deception to gain access to state resources. After all, given the increased lawlessness we see in our country, it is surely important for those holding top positions to do all they can to combat it by themselves ensuring they abide by the law, regardless of whether or not they see it as just.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The curious case of Faisal Shahzad

Editorial --- The Express Tribune -- May 6

Why is it that when it comes to terrorism, all roads – or most of them anyway – lead to Pakistan? As long as the link to the bombing attempt at New York’s Times Square had come through vitriolic messages conveyed by the Taliban over YouTube it had been possible to convince ourselves that these were fabricated.

The dramatic arrest on May 3 of Faisal Shahzad from an Emirates flight bound for Dubai from New York, however, makes such denial impossible. Of course, we still will have the naysayers who will say that Shahzad is an American (he only recently became one) and not a Pakistani (he certainly lived much of his life in Pakistan) and that how could someone from such an educated and ‘good’ family be involved in something like this (Osama bin Laden’s family in Saudi Arabia is among the wealthiest in the world while Ayman Al Zawahiri’s father was a professor and he is a trilingual qualified surgeon).

The investigation that will follow the arrest of a 30-year-old naturalised US national, from an affluent Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa family, may throw some light on his links and how he was lured into leaving a truck, loaded with enough material to make a crude but large bomb, in the middle of New York’s Times Square. So far Shahzad has said that he was acting alone but investigators are likely to discount that theory.

According to one report that quotes details of the charges filed against him in a US federal court, he has admitted to receiving training in Waziristan, and if true, it would corroborate a claim by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that it was behind the failed bombing attempt. The fact that the material in the truck failed to explode is perhaps the only silver lining of this whole episode. However, it does not bode well for the large Pakistani community in North America.

While New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s warning that any attacks against Pakistani-Americans or Muslims will not be tolerated is welcome and timely, it is unlikely to deter those Americans who will want revenge and see Faisal Shahzad as another Mohammad Ata in the making. Shahzad obviously did not realise that his own actions will create immense problems for a community that is known more for its excellent doctors and philanthropists than for breeding terorrists.

But terrorists is how Pakistani-Americans may be seen by many Americans now. The Foreign Office has said that Pakistan will cooperate fully in the investigation with the Americans. This is good because nitpicking whether the man is a Pakistani or not will not achieve anything and is a reflection of the isolationist mindset that many in this country have when it comes to relations between the west and Muslims. The chief military spokesman has already said on record that it is unclear whether the TTP even has the “reach” to carry out an attack inside the US.

What is the reason for making such a statement when the TTP chief himself made this statement just a couple of days ago? Even if, for the sake of argument, Shahzad was acting on his own, he has admitted to receiving training in Waziristan, where he reportedly met Qari Hussain Mehsud. The world is a small place and people know the history of the Taliban and how they were created. If it is proven — or even perceived by the US — that the TTP is involved in this failed bombing attempt, then the case for a military operation in North Waziristan becomes all the more stronger.

So by disputing the TTP link, is ISPR trying to ward off such an eventuality? Right now, the best strategy for the government of Pakistan — and the institutions that come under it — would be to aid the investigation and help find any accomplices so that the rest of the world does not see even an iota of prevarication. The much-hyped but muchneglected registration of madrassahs should be revisited as should be a previous failed attempt to monitor sermons given by prayer leaders in our mosques. And as a society, we all need to ask ourselves what it is that makes us get involved in such things.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A cover-up of epic proportions

Editorial -- The Express Tribune

May 05, 2010

Some things in our country never seem to change. Certain sections of the establishment have, for decades, been accustomed to getting away with all kinds of misdeeds. The tradition continues without check. According to reports in two national newspapers, the three-member committee formed by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to probe the death of Benazir Bhutto has held the police responsible for hosing down the murder site — the one action that most effectively thwarted further investigation in the case.
The finding by the committee means that former chief of Military Intelligence Maj-Gen Nadeem Ijaz has been let off the hook. It is not insignificant that the role of the city police officer (CPO) of Rawalpindi at the time, Saud Aziz, in the hosing down of the crime scene had been mentioned in great detail in the UN Commission’s report on Bhutto’s assassination. As a result of the probe’s findings, it came to light that the police officer had, according to sources (whom the Commission said had spoken to it), been directed by Major-General Ijaz, to ensure that the crime scene was hosed down.
But the prime minister’s committee, headed by the cabinet secretary and including a two-star general, has held that this was not the case and that there was no outside influence on the decision to wash the crime scene. So what do we have before ourselves, if not the stench of a massive cover-up? Surely, the three gentlemen who sat on the committee would know that experience and history would both suggest that a police official could not have in his right mind taken such a decision all on his own, especially when the scene was where a political leader of the stature of Benazir Bhutto had just been assassinated.
And since CPO Aziz has not used insanity in his defence, the only conclusion that we can come up with is that things are at work which prevent the real power behind the decision to hose down the crime scene from being exposed. The result: a scapegoat, a man who has now taken the fall, it seems, for a general. In all of this, we would like to ask the committee on what grounds has the assertion made in the UN Commission’s report been set aside?
Why wasn’t any effort made to probe the matter in reference to the ‘sources’ mentioned in the UN report, who told the Commission that CPO Aziz had in fact been directed by a higher military authority to do what he now claims he did on his own. Given the important nature of the issue at hand, perhaps we should quote a few sentences from the UN report directly: “Sources informed the Commission that CPO Saud Aziz did not act independently in deciding to hose down the crime scene.
One source, speaking on the basis of anonymity, stated that CPO Saud Aziz had confided in him that he had received a call from Army Headquarters instructing him to order the hosing down of the crime
scene. Another source, also speaking on the basis of anonymity, said that the CPO was ordered to hose down the scene by Major-General Ijaz, then Director-General of MI. Others, including three police officials, told the Commission that CPO Saud Aziz did not act independently and that ’everyone knows’ who ordered the hosing down.”

Did the committee examine in any detail the background to the actual day of the assassination, as in the threats received by the former prime minister and the level of security provided to her? Doing so would have perhaps given a context to the immediate hosing down of the crime scene because that one act destroyed most of the evidence which would have been required to carry out a thorough investigation.

Also, what about the circumstantial evidence regarding the autopsy which should have been carried out under the law but which the doctor in charge was ordered not to — by someone, according to the UN Commission report, on the doctor’s mobile phone. There are many questions and very few answers.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Ajmal Kasab verdict & after

Editorial -- The Express Tribune -- May 4

Ajmal Kasab’s conviction on all 86 charges related to the Mumbai attacks brought against him by the Government of India before a special court was a foregone conclusion. We say this given the reams of evidence against him, not least the photographs of him walking through the main concourse of Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus with an automatic weapon in hand. All the other attackers were killed by Indian security forces and two Indian Muslims who were tried as co-accused have been acquitted by the court. While we unequivocally welcome the guilty verdict for someone who can be best described as a mass murderer, it serves little purpose for India to gloat over it and again point a finger at Pakistan. This is precisely what we make of Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram’s statement right after the verdict when he said that it was “a message to Pakistan that they should not export terror to India”. This clearly suggests that New Delhi (or at least sections of the Indian government) is convinced that Pakistan was involved in the attacks at some sort of official level.

For its own part, the best convincing that Pakistan can do is if it tries in earnest the seven Laskhar-i-Taiba (LeT) men that it has arrested for involvement in the Mumbai attacks. These include the LeT’s operations chief, Zakiur Rahman Lakhvi, and several other operatives, who were arrested from outside Muzaffarabad in December 2008. However, it wasn’t till November 2009 when charges were formally made against the seven men in an anti-terrorist court in Rawalpindi. Since then, the case for the prosecution has gone nowhere. In January of this year, Lakhvi sought a transfer of his case and later filed a plea for acquittal. While both were rejected, no movement has been seen as far as presenting any evidence against the men is concerned. Pakistan needs to expedite resolution of the case so that the rest of the world can begin to believe it when it says it will prosecute any Pakistani involved in the Mumbai attacks.

A letter from Bajaur

I wrote this article some time back about the post-operation situation
in Bajaur Agency and sent it to two English dailies but they did not
publish it for unknown reasons. When I came to know about the launch
of your new daily "The Express Tribune", I decided to resend the
article with latest updates. If you dont print this article, it is
okay. I can understand your limitations and also have not pinned any
hopes on you. I have only written this article in an attempt to reach
to the concerned Pakistanis who may realize that "We are also
(I had a mobile phone before the operation but since the mobile
services have been cut-off for the last 20 months, my only contact is
through email from net cafe whenever I come to Munda or Timergara
Sher Zaman Khan Alizai, Bajour Agency

A so-called military operation is going on in Bajour Agency for the
last one and a half year... We call it "so-called" because it has only
served to target the civilians...
Even hostile forces dont commit the atrocities in occupied lands that
our own army has committed in Bajour Agency. Artillery and mortar
shelling has resulted in hundreds if not thousands of civilian deaths.
Some families have been completely eliminated. I personally know 3-4
families who have lost 7 or 8 persons each to this shelling. The
airforce jets and gunship choppers hit and destroy anything with
pin-point accuracy except the militant positions. The general public
feeling that has emanated from this whole operation is that the
military and the militants are one and the same. They are just playing
a game with each other as the only losers in this battle are the
non-combatants. If the military's daily claims of militant deaths has
to be believed, more than 3000 militants have been killed in the 20
months of operation. However, on the ground nobody can prove the
deaths of more than a mere few. The security forces have destroyed
more than 3000 houses and shops on the Khar Nawagai road from
Sadiqabad to Zor Bandar. Hundreds of buildings in others areas have
also been raised to the ground. The once-residents of these area are
living in Jalozai and Kaccha-Garhi refugee camps in pathetic
conditions for the last 16 months. There are obvious double standards
when it comes to treatment of IDPs from tribal areas compared to Swat
IDPs. The Swat IDPs were treated far better and were sent back to
their homes in just 2-3 months while tribals IDPs have been left like
step-children. The students from Swat were given special fee
concessions by the colleges / universities while tribal students have
been neglected although tribal people have been affected for much
longer time and much more severely than Swat IDPs. We are happy that
the Swatis got what they got but why are we not treated the same way.
Are we from some other country or are some 2nd or 3rd grade
Had all these pains resulted in peace and eradication of militancy
from the area, the people would have accepted this as a horror episode
and restarted their lives. Alas! this is not the case. The militant
activities still continue. At night especially, it is the militants
who rule throughout Bajaur except the main GT Road, FC fort and Civil
Colony complexes. The local civil administration employees e.g
Khasadars, health staff, education staff etc are the most affected
because the militants have blown up their houses, kidnapped and killed
them or their family members.
The military gave extreme hype to the capturing of Damadola, Sewai and
Badan areas of Tehsil Mamund. However, the locals know that all major
militant commanders were given a safe exit for unknown reasons. The
militants surrendering to security forces is yet another drama. The
surrendering militants only have to submit an AK-47 rifle and then
they are allowed to go scot-free. None is intorrogated for the
atrocities they committed against the people of the area. The Maliks
and Jirgas that give surety for the surrendering militants to the
authorities are themselves not so powerful to control them and stop
them from indulging in mischiefs again. Even children in Bajour know
today that Maulvi Faqir Muhammad is safe and sound alongwith his top
commanders Sheena, Wali-Rahman and Abdullah in the "Enzari" village
only a few kilometers away from the military's main operational base
in Loi-Sam. Commander Pervez is active from his hideouts in Dhoda
village of Tehsil Nawagai, while Qari ZiaurRehman is operating from
Mattak village of Charmang. The military also knows about them but
dont target them. On the civilian front, however, the military has
huge successes to its credit. A collateral damage consisting of
hundreds of civilians, destruction of thousands of residential and
commercial buildings, barrening of thousands of acres of agricultural
fields and orchards and conversion of nearly 1 million Bajouris into
Psychic patients are the only achievements of the military operation.
Target killing of neutral or pro-govt tribal elders is almost a daily
routine. Over 170 tribal elders have been target-killed in the past
8-10 months. Scores of schools have been blown up in the areas which
the army claims to have cleared. Half a dozen schools have been blown
up just in the last fortnight. The local media journalists also dont
depict the true picture either due to fear of both parties or due to
perks received from govt.
Where should we, the tribesmen, go in these circumstances. We see no
ray of hope. The powerful media, the independent judiciary, the civil
society nobody listens to our voices.
Then the people ask why have these people (tribals) have gone mad and
why are they killing our children in Peshawar, Rawalpindi and Lahore.
It is the same innocence with which Americans asked the world after
9/11 that "Why do they hate us"? Although I am not trying to justify
the killings of civilians in Peshawar, Punjab or elsewhere. But the
fact is that the tribesmen have been cornered and ignored to an extent
that anything can be expected from them. We hate the militants from
the core of our heart but our passions for Pakistan are also drying up
with each passing day. I know it sounds unpatriotic to say this but if
the Pakistanis have nothing to offer to us and if we have to be slaves
forever then why not choose someone else for a master; the Americans
or the Indians or the likes. So that when we fight them in response,
we can die as martyrs and we dont feel the pain of being killed by our
own brothers.

Sher Zaman Khan Alizai, Bajour Agency.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The killing of Khalid Khawaja

Editorial -- The Express Tribune - May 2

Who, or rather, what was Khalid Khawaja? If we get the answer to that we may get some idea of who his killers are. On the face of it, the Asian Tigers, as a terrorist organisation, has never been heard of till now. Khawaja went missing in March as he, Col (retd) Amir Sultan Tarar (also known as Colonel Imam) and a reputed British documentary filmmaker were on their way to meet senior members of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan in North Waziristan.

Several reports suggest that he was on his way to meet Waliur Rahman Mehsud – the TTP’s purported number two – and Sirajuddin Haqqani, who because of his father’s reported ill health, is the de facto head of the Haqqani network. When the three went missing it was said that they were on their way to meet people in connection with a documentary. However, now it turns out that the purpose of their trip was something far more substantial.

And before we explore that further, perhaps we need to take a closer look at Khalid Khawaja — who he was, and what he did. He quit the air force many years ago. Later, he went and fought alongside the mujahideen in Afghanistan and developed close relations with much of their leadership. Of late, he was in the forefront of the missing persons issue, working closely with Amina Masood Janjua, whose husband went missing in 2005 and who has been an outspoken voice on this matter.

When Mullah Baradar was arrested by Pakistani intelligence some months ago, it was Khawaja who filed a petition in court and managed to get an order blocking the Afghan Taliban leader’s extradition out of Pakistan. Reports that he was in fact captured by unknown elements on his way to North Waziristan were confirmed when a videotape was released recently in which Khawaja made some startling revelations.

However, upon seeing the video one could tell that some, if not most, of what he was saying was under duress. This especially showed when he said that he was an agent for the ISI as well as the CIA and that he was the one who had contacted the Ghazi brothers – the leaders of Lal Masjid – and convinced the elder one to come out in a burqa, only to be caught by security forces.

He also said that most jihadi leaders in the country – such as Maulana Masood Azhar and Fazlur Rahman Khalil who were both mentioned by name – were on the payroll of the ISI and had free rein to collect funds throughout the country, notwithstanding either 9/11 or 26/11. He also said that he had been sent to North Waziristan this time by two former ISI officers and this led some to believe that he may have been on his way to broker a deal with the TTP.

Once it became clear that he had in fact been kidnapped, a spokesman for the TTP said that the organisation was not privy to this at all and was in fact working for the release of the men. The TTP also said that Colonel Imam was widely-respected among the Taliban for the work he had done when he was active in Afghanistan and helped raised their militia to fight off the other Afghan factions. Given this background and context, one can only wonder who is behind Khalid Khawaja’s murder.

Are the ‘Asian Tigers’, as is now being put forth by some observers, an amalgamation of a splinter of the Punjabi jihadi/Taliban outfits, who were somehow unhappy with what Khawaja was doing? And if this was indeed the case, what compelled them to kidnap him and then execute him? Wasn’t he one of the main cheerleaders for the Taliban in the country, one who fought cases on their behalf and one who rallied to their defence? Or is there something more to this whole sordid affair? Who will give us the answers to this?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Taking the fall for a general

Editorial -- The Express Tribune -- May 1

The joint investigation team looking into the assassination of Benazir Bhutto has heard quite a different version of events than that told to the UN commission. The city police officer at the time of the murder has now denied he ever received a phone call from the then head of Military Intelligence General Nadeem Ijaz, that he was ever issued instructions to hose down the site of the crime or that he did so for any reason other than his own ‘negligence’.

This version of events from Saud Aziz means that the much-touted investigation against a serving general is effectively over even before it really began. A day earlier, Gen. Ijaz had denied all charges against him, calling them “fabricated”. The question of what is fact and what is fiction becomes even more convoluted than before. Those close to CPO Aziz imply he has little choice but to be Gen. Ijaz’s fall guy. The pressure that would make a senior civilian officer take the blame so that a senior military officer gets off easy is all too understandable and only to be expected in a nation where the military has tended to dominate just about everything.

The major casualty in all this is, of course, the truth. It now seems even less likely that we will ever get to the bottom of what happened that day at Liaquat Bagh, and during the days that preceded the killing. The UN report had thrown up some interesting facts and touched on other angles that needed to be explored. But all that is unlikely to happen now with a civilian apparently taking the fall for a general. Those standing on the sidelines and observing all this will wonder who is telling the truth — the UN or General Ijaz and CPO Aziz?